Six Degrees of Separation from Shuggie Bain to The Secret Life of Bees

It’s time again for Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

Shuggie Bain is by Douglas Stuart and it won the Booker Prize in 2020. I haven’t read it.

This is a story of a young boy growing up in poverty in a dysfunctional family in the 1980s. Shuggie’s mother, Agnes, is an alcoholic, and his father, Shug, is a taxi driver who despises his wife’s addiction to ‘the drink’, cheats on her whenever the opportunity arises, and ultimately abandons her to a low-income housing development called Pithead, a depressing colliery where residents survive on government handouts. It’s Douglas Stuart’s first novel.

My first link is to another Booker Prize winning book, The Gathering by Anne Enright, the winner in 2007. It’s a dark and disturbing novel also about a dysfunctional family. The narrator is Veronica Hegarty and it is through her eyes that the Hegarty family story is told as they gather at her brother’s wake in Dublin. Liam, an alcoholic, had committed suicide by putting rocks into his pockets and walking into the sea at Brighton. 

My second link is from a fictional character who put rocks in his pockets to drown himself to a real person who committed suicide in the same way -Virginia Woolf. In his biography of her, Quentin Bell described how she made her way to the river bank, slipped a large stone into her coat pocket and drowned herself.

My third link is from a suicide to a death that seemed at first to be a suicide but then turned out to be murder, in Gallows Court by Martin Edwards, set in 1930s London. There’s tension and suspicion about who is telling the truth, and who is not who they appear to be. You just cannot believe anything as it’s full of illusions and tricks to baffle and mislead.

Fourth, there’s another apparent suicide in The Serpent Pool, a Lake District Mystery, by Martin Edwards. Bethany Friend drowned in the Serpent Pool, a lonely, isolated place below the Serpent Tower, a folly high on a ridge. DCI Hannah Scarlet, in charge of the Cumbria’s Cold Case Team, investigates her death with the help of historian, Daniel Kind.

Fifth, from the Serpent Tower my chain moves on to the Eiffel Tower in Murder on the Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner. It combines crime fiction and historical fiction, as Eugénie Patinot takes her nephews and niece to the newly-opened Eiffel Tower in 1889. They sign the visitors’ book, and then Eugénie collapses and dies, apparently from a bee-sting.

And the final link is to bees in Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Lives of Bees, (I’ve had this book for 6 years and it’s been hidden in my Kindle ever since – unread!). It’s a coming of age tale set in 1960s South Carolina’. It tells the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. This book also links back to Shuggie Bain as both are their authors’ debut novels.

My chain began in Glasgow, moved to Dublin, various places in England and then Paris before ending up in South Carolina. The links include Booker Prize winners, dysfunctional families, suicide, murder and bees.

Next month’s chain (May 1, 2021) will begin with Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary, a book I’ve never come across before.

17 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation from Shuggie Bain to The Secret Life of Bees

  1. Well, nothing to laugh at with this chain – it came out pretty dark. By the way, you might like William Boyd’s new novel, Trio, which has a character who is obsessed with Virginia Woolf and her suicide.

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  2. People committing suicide the same way – that’s got to be one of the saddest links, I’ve seen this month. The only Virginia Woolf novel I’ve read is Mrs Dalloway, but I loved it so much and mean to read more of her works. At some point it would also be great to read the biography, since she seems like such a fascinating person.

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  3. Some dark themes here, Margaret, but I like the way you’ve crafted your chain (I always do). And you’ve reminded me of how talented a writer Martin Edwards is. I need to get back to reading his work.

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  4. Well done. I think I’ve gotten Secret Life of Bees in every format and still not read it–thankfully all versions were from the library. I think it’s an Oprah book–that means up your anti-depressant a notch or two before you read it.

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  5. Plenty of ‘dark’ around in this month’s chains, it seems. You’ve made some great connections, Margaret. I think I also have The Secret Life of Bees lurking on my Kindle!


  6. Thanks for this list, from someone who also loves dark mysteries. For those who hesitate to read The Secret Life of Bees, it’s actually very uplifting by the end, a truly remarkable first novel. My entire book group loved it back in the day.


  7. What a fantastic chain, Margaret, so jam-packed full of twists and turns. I love the sound of all these titles.


  8. I enjoyed your chain.

    I’ve read The Secret Life of Bees and seen the film, and I’d recommend both. Yes, there are some dark moments, but there is also a lot of light. The film, in particular, was wonderful.

    I’m currently working my way through Martin Edwards’ The Golden Age of Murder – he is so well informed and so prolific! I’ve not read any of his own novels, though I have some – now I will try to get to them.


  9. Nice chain! I accidentally bought the sequel to Gallows Court last month and was annoyed with myself when I tried to sit down with it. I need to request the first one from the library. Like Rosemary, I own his Golden Age of Murder and have been dipping into it from time to time. I’ve read The Gathering and The Secret Life of Bees, both with my book group.

    Did you never come across Cleary as a child? Her children’s books are very realistic but I think you would also like her memoir, My Own Two Feet and its sequel. She also wrote some YA books that read like an episode of Happy Days but I loved them because unlike my experience.


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